IT Executive of the Year: Ortiz Building a Foundation for Member Value Delivery
At the $150 million, Arlington, Va.-based The Partnership Federal Credit Union, employees share the belief that their entire community deserves value through partnership. That philosophy is the backbone of the credit union's core value – to serve those who uphold the public's interests.
And according to COO Bonnie Ortiz, CU Times’ 2016 Trailblazer Award winner for IT Executive of the Year, it's also a real cornerstone of how the organization does business.
“This credit union is founded on a core set of values and a strong purpose around maximizing value for our members and doing that through partnerships,” Ortiz said.
The Partnership formed in 2009 as the result of a merger between FDIC Federal Credit Union and National Science Foundation Federal Credit Union. In 2012, the credit union expanded its growth by merging Fannie Mae Federal Credit Union.
Ortiz originally came on board in 2008 to manage projects related to the merger that formed the credit union. She led some 20 projects of varying size that integrated the two merging credit unions as well as made decisions based on best practices methodologies.
“We don't do anything without a purpose or without a project management plan,” Ortiz noted.
Upon the merger's completion in June 2009, Ortiz was officially named The Partnership's COO. One of her first moves as COO involved collaborating with the Baltimore-based IT managed services provider Horsetail Technologies to facilitate a robust and hardened IT infrastructure. She then implemented extensive auditing programs to ensure vendors held themselves to high security standards, as well as instituted service-level agreements with nearly all the institution's vendors.
Ortiz also initiated an expansion of the credit union's data warehouse, which helped introduce more vigorous reporting, expanded tracking and benchmarking, as well as increased the level of automation, which improved operational efficiency by integrating data from multiple channels. These changes allowed the credit union to create accurate models for engaged members, something that supported the credit union's Value in Partnership member engagement program.
Under Ortiz's direction, the credit union also launched more than 10 new products, established more than a dozen new vendor relationships, re-negotiated in excess of seven major contracts, and implemented business analytics that measure channel productivity, profitability and risk. Ortiz also developed a well-attended training series that helped middle managers learn project management discipline and supported the expansion of project management proficiency across the organization. To date, the program has led two employees of The Partnership to become certified project managers.
“Our c-level executives, our senior leadership and our middle managers are being trained in the strategies and tactics that drive maximizing the value for the member,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz has also developed project management templates and resources to ensure consistent application of those methodologies. The credit union, she explained, “follows strong standards and well-proven project management principles.”
This discipline has allowed The Partnership FCU to offer a sophisticated product suite, deliver value to members and enjoy cost savings by managing projects in-house.
“The savings comes in the management as opposed to picking the cheapest product,” Ortiz said. “Because that isn't always the best value.”
On the information technology side, Ortiz formed the credit union's business-technology business unit, a combination of project management, product management and IT services.
“For me it is all about maximizing and stabilizing your infrastructure so you can bring more products to market in a shorter period of time for less money,” Ortiz said.
In addition to Horsetail Technologies, the credit union's technology partners include Ongoing Operations, a Hagerstown, Md.-based CUSO, for business continuity and disaster recovery; and the Brookfield, Wis.-based Fiserv as its core provider.
Ortiz explained, “We don't really have an IT business unit. We have a business technology business unit. IT sits in the center of it as the infrastructure that enables all of our business processes.”
Two particular projects stood out in the past year, Ortiz said. One was adding an online account origination function by installing an online account opening product and then going the extra mile to ensure The Partnership had an interface connecting its online banking platform to its core platform. This helped maximize both online account opening and online lending for the credit union, Ortiz explained.
The second project entailed researching credit and debit card platform consolidation.
“We looked at numerous vendor and IT solutions, and did a thorough analysis of fraud and security solutions to ensure that our backbone was optimized,” Ortiz said.
In the process, the credit union selected a new vendor and moved between the planning and execution stages quickly. As a result, it saved $51,000 on its project management budget for the year.
A commitment to business analytics also led The Partnership to expand its examination of vendor programs, which led to more aggressively negotiated contracts, vendor consolidations, an analysis of contracted products and services, and the elimination of under or unutilized services.
“It was all about looking at where can we consolidate vendors and really reach premier partnerships with vendors,” Ortiz said, adding she also wanted to ensure the credit union used at least 80% of each product. “Many times we select a product based on some features and functionalities, and then you get it in-house and ultimately don't use it.”
Her team created a credit union solutions matrix, which lists all critical systems and their respective dependencies and intersections. The document enables the credit union to troubleshoot system issues or outages quickly.
“We know exactly how all of our systems connect,” Ortiz said. “We have educated all of our staff down to the front office on how that occurs. From a maintenance perspective, I have not increased the maintenance of my systems in three years. We can diagnose quicker because we have a better idea of what is going on.”
She added, “I hear a lot of my colleagues say IT runs the show. That is not the way we operate at The Partnership. Here, IT is an enabler and our business leaders run the show.”
Ortiz is also committed to investing in the next generation of leaders and taking an active role in her community. She provides mentoring to young leaders inside and outside of the credit union, is co-chair of the Global Women's Leadership Network DC Sister Society and is commandant of her yacht club.
“A small to medium-sized credit union struggles daily to ensure it can maximize value to members because it needs to compete,” Ortiz stated. “Members have choices. The loyalty of the younger millennial is just not what the older baby boomer used to be. You must have all the same products and conveniences [as other financial institutions] and serve them across channels in the same way.”